Storytelling Amanda Palmer TED

Are You a Good Storyteller for Your Business?

Do you tell stories to your customers or give them a one-two sales punch right from the start? Are you a carnival barker or a Martin Luther King whose “I Have a Dream” story on the mount of the Lincoln Memorial sold millions on the morality of civil rights?

Amanda Palmer used the power of storytelling on Kickstarter to raise $1.2 million to produce her music album. As HubSpot recounted in a post on storytelling, the singer-songwriter dressed herself a kimono and, flipping handmade signs, explained she was a musician, who had parted ways with her record label because they told her the cost of her next album would be a whopping $500,000.

But she and her partners couldn’t finish producing the record on their own. She needed people’s help to get it off the ground.

Palmer videotaped herself and uploaded it to Kickstarter. She tells her story in this TED talk, entitled “The Art of Asking.” Music pundits were askance that she began by giving away her music before she did the “ask.”

As she says in her talk, “And the media asked, ‘Amanda, the music business is tanking and you encourage piracy. How did you make all these people pay for music?’ And the real answer is, I didn’t make them. I asked them. And through the very act of asking people, I’d connected with them, and when you connect with them, people want to help you.”

She says further, “I think people have been obsessed with the wrong question, which is, ‘How do we make people pay for music?” What if we started asking, “How do we let people pay for music?”

That’s the question we all need to ask ourselves. How can we connect with people so they want to buy from us? It’s simple, really. Engage them by becoming a compelling storyteller that develops lasting relationships with your buyers.

Leave a Reply


  1. If you tell a story from the bottom of your heart, something that you believe in, something real that has changed your life, some honest statements that has led you in life, it’ll surely rock your audience. The purchase comes automatically afterward. You get the money and spend it. Yes, it’s gone, but what’s left? The connections and friendship that couldn’t be bought with any amount of money!

    Thanks Jeannette for the great post. This is what many must apply in their businesses to enjoy life.

    • Rahman — you practice what you preach because you always tell such interesting stories about the history and art of Iran.

  2. The power is in asking isn’t it? Terrific point Jeannette. My story telling is better on the platform when I am training or speaking – which I just realized as you asked the question! Great post on both being a storyteller and the art of asking.

    • Patricia — I think you gloss over the story when you’re too anxious to make a sale. The sales cycle is so much longer in the service business, it requires patience and the ability to build and maintain relationships.

  3. Not sure if my comment went through, so I’ll leave these thoughts. While I try to tailor my sales pitches to each client, I have an “elevator pitch” to use in a pinch, as well as a general template to work on. Since I’m a journalist, the ability to weave a skillful narrative is crucial to any sales pitch. And so far, it’s worked well for me.

    • Krystyna — We all need an “elevator pitch” no matter what our business. I loved your motorcycle story and look forward to reading more.

  4. A very wonderful post, Jeannette. I can really relate to this topic, as I used crowdfunding to help fund the publishing of the first volume of Chocolatour. ASKING people for help is so very hard to do. I truly found it to be one of the most difficult things I have ever done. But the results were amazing (very small in comparison to Amanda’s results, but still enough to have enable me to publish and pay for the first print run of my book.)

    I think it is important to try and maintain that humbleness in our dealings with our readers (fans) and entertain them with compelling stories. I have learned that is very important to the people who read my blog.

    • Doreen — so glad that crowdfunding helped you publish your first volume of Chocolatour, which I read and enjoyed. I, too, find it difficult to ask. I think it goes back to my childhood. I’m always afraid of rejection and I think all of us are to one degree or another.

  5. You make some good points here.
    Often our focus is on the outcome only.
    “How do I make sales?”
    “How do I increase followers to my blog/website”

    Sometimes we need to engage with our potential customers for a while.

    • Phoenicia — As Amanda says in the video, we need to let you customers want to buy from you. That should be our focus.

  6. Storytelling is a basic element of the human existence. We weave narratives of our own lives and often don’t revise those stories we tell ourselves. So it’s only fitting that we are drawn to the stories of others and want to connect with them as well and the things they create.

    • Jeri — so true. Even the early cavemen wrote stories on their walls in images. Our ears perk up when someone says, “Let me tell you how one simple event changed the course of my life.” I’d like to know!

  7. Jeannette, what a wonderful video you chose! Personal stories are about making personal connection. I love what Amanda said: “When we really see each other, we want to help each other.” The word “really” is perfect. Taking the risk to share our stories is to reveal our humanity to others. That’s what people relate to, the real person. And it helps to give those other people permission to show who they “really” are. Yes, it is about connection. And, I agree with the comments left by Rahman. 🙂

    • Ramona — it’s risky to reveal ourselves. We fear rejection and that we won’t measure up. But, as you point out, it’s the only way to make a real connection.

  8. I think it is odd, someone like a songwriter having trouble finding the words. This happens to author’s too. Those who are so good at storytelling, can’t tell their story, or in this case their request.
    Thanks for sharing this with us.

    • William — how true, that authors can’t often find the words to tell their stories. I think it’s because, as writers, we’re too critical of our own writing and are always self-editing instead of just letting the stories flow.

  9. Agree with you, Jeannette. There is far too much hard sales going on. How you act, what you say and the questions you ask should make people convince themselves. If not, you will have problems making them travel with you.

    Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” or JFK’s “Ask not what your country..” are good examples of how to make people buy your vision.

    When I give a speech about how to do business in Saudi Arabia I tell a story of the country, how I ended up there and so forth, ask questions and make the audience travel with me. Imagine if I just said something like these are the regulations of Saudi customs, EU export regulations, how to deal with the tax authorities and so forth. That kind of technicalities are easy to find out. You have to make people interested and want to do it.

    • Catarina — I’d enjoy hearing one of your stories about doing business in Saudi Arabia and how you ended up there. I just looked on YouTube and didn’t find any videos. Maybe do a video for your blog?

  10. What I really like about this post is learning the value of connection. You are much more likely to give to someone if you feel a connection to the person. If a story helps, that’s great. Yesterday a neighbor’s young son came and asked for a donation to a charity. I didn’t even know what the charity was until after I gave to him. But somehow I felt a connection (in part to my own dear belated father, who knew this little boy’s father).

    I notice in politics people often want to make other people do X. That seems like the wrong approach. One should allow people to feel compelled to do X because it is the right thing to do.

    • Leora — I agree with your observation about politicians. I’ve been inundated with requests to donate to a campaign, not because I would approve of the candidate’s policies but because we need to beat the other guy.

  11. That is such an interesting perspective on encouraging people to buy a product. I do think, in this online world, it is of utmost importance to connect with your audience. When people like you, they will be eager to spend money on you. We can spend all this time creating the best product ever. But if people don’t feel connected to you, they won’t buy from you. Amanda Palmer really figured out something great for herself.

    • Erica — I think we underestimate how important it is for people to like you in order to buy from you. You can’t build a relationship with a customer without this important ingredient.